Delivering papers every afternoon five days a week and then trying to collect for your services on weekends will teach you a lot about business and people.
In l969 a paper could be bought for 10-cents. A week’s subscription could be purchased for 35-cents and a whole month’s worth for $1.25. A lot of things have changed since l969.
A portion of my paper route trailed through a blighted area of West Point. The low-lying area was known as Frog Bottom and was peopled by Blacks who had yet to benefit from the social changes of the 1960’s.
I had only a few regular customers there. The residents were barely able to meet the monthly bills, much less pay for a month of newspapers.
Mrs. Nash was one lady who lived in the corner of Frog Bottom. She lived alone and judging from her age and situation her only source of income was probably Social Security.
Stooped with age and years of hard work, Mrs. Nash had dark brown eyes and a hoarse voice. She wore sweaters in summer and winter.
Mrs. Nash was proud of the fact she could read and write and often told me she was proud that both her children, two sons who lived up north, had finished high school. She took the paper on a semi-regular basis or when her income allowed.
Mrs. Nash was always friendly toward me, offering me Kool-Aid in the summer and hot tea with a lot of sugar on cold winter days. Mrs. Nash had been raised in a different era than the one I was growing up in. She always made a point of making sure I saw her wash the glasses and plates before I was served anything from her kitchen.
Mrs. Nash’s home was not painted and while the dwelling had several rooms she lived in only two. Her kitchen was heated by a wood-burning pot-bellied stove that she also cooked from. On dark winter evenings as I peddled my bike past her home I remember seeing light escaping through cracks in the walls.
In retrospect I realize Mrs. Nash probably spent a good portion of her life taking care of White people’s children. She was always curious about my family, school and how other people in the neighborhood treated me when I went to collect for the paper.
She would quote scripture on how one should pay what one owes when I told who had not paid their paper bill.
I went to Mrs. Nash’s home to collect for the paper one Saturday morning just before Christmas. Mrs. Nash was always good about paying what she owed and kept her money in a handkerchief tied at the corners.
That Saturday morning in 1969 I stepped up on Mrs. Nash’s porch, knocked on the door and I told her I was there to collect for the paper.
She invited me inside while she rounded up the 35-cents she owed. She paid her subscription and smiled as she told me she had something extra for me since it was Christmas time.
She pressed a dime into my hand. She said it wasn’t much, but it was her gift to me for the year.
It was cold that morning and I was dressed in a warm winter coat. I remember the sun coming through a window in Mrs. Nash’s kitchen. As I looked around at Mrs. Nash’s surroundings, I told her I couldn’t take her money and tried to put the dime back in her hand.
She wouldn’t take it back.
“Son, it’s the giving, not the gift, that makes Christmas,” she explained.
I started crying when I got outside and I cried as I peddled my bike all the way home. When I told my mother the story we both cried together.
Mrs. Nash taught a nine-year-old boy something many parents try to teach their children about Christmas:
This is a season of giving and not getting.
The first Christmas was God giving his most precious gift, his son, to men who would later take that son’s life.
Every Christmas thereafter has been a chance for human beings to learn the greatest gifts are those through which we give of ourselves.
Things have changed in 37 years. Frog Bottom has been cleaned up and now sports new brick homes as part of a federal housing project. I’ve got a little bit better job at the Chickasaw Journal and you can’t get a subscription for 35-cents a week. Mrs. Nash’s house is still standing, but is now a stable for horses and storing hay.
I don’t know what happened to Mrs. Nash. I would like to think she is alive and living with one of her sons or in a nice warm nursing home somewhere. But Mrs. Nash was already old when I knew her.
I was changed that holiday season. I still have that dime and I’ll never forget it really is the giving, not the gift that makes Christmas.